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Aw . . . Relax, Archie!  Re-Laxx!:
An OTR Article by Read G. Burgan
Published In RADIO WORLD December 17, 2003:


Aw . . . Relax, Archie! Re-Laxx!
A book review by
Read G. Burgan

I confess that I am a shameless fan of Old Time Radio (OTR). While I was not born during radio's prime in the late 30’s to the mid 40’s, I was old enough to catch its remaining years in the late 40’s and 50’s.

None of us who listened had an inkling that it would disappear almost overnight. If you weren’t there, you cannot understand how different the radio of today is from the Golden Age of Radio.

Unfortunately, most actors, writers and directors of that period are dead. Each year fewer attend the handful of OTR conventions that are held around the country. If only we could preserve the remaining ones in suspended animation and revive them once a year for our enjoyment.

Fortunately there is one way to preserve the remaining OTR people -- or at least their memories. And that is through accounts like the delightful new book Aw . . . Relax, Archie! Re-laxx! by Harlan Stone -- who prefers just plain “Hal.”

Who is Hal Stone? In his adult life he produced TV commercials and documentaries. During his youth, he was a radio actor. He provides a firsthand account of what it was like in his new book.

His most famous role was that of Jughead on the Archie Andrews Show beginning n 1944 and continuing (with some interruptions) until 1953. When he auditioned for the role at age 13, he had no idea that it would continue through his early 20’s -- with time off for a stint in the Air National Guard during the Korean War.

Hal provides a firsthand account of life as a child actor. Over the past several years, Hal has freely shared his memories as a radio actor with those of us who subscribe to the Internet Old Time Radio Digest, and in his book he displays the same delightful sense of humor that has characterized his postings to the Digest.

Interestingly enough, it was the OTR Digest that provided the impetus for Hal to write his book. “When I got talked into subscribing to the Digest, I was in the process of writing a book about my 25 year TV directorial career. In the Digest, people started asking me all sort of questions about my radio experiences, and when a few found out I was writing a book about TV, they suggested I include my prior radio performing experiences in it.”

“I couldn't do that. The TV book was going to be irreverent and a sort of "expose". I didn't feel irreverent about my old time radio experiences. It would have required two different approaches. Due to the encouragement, I shelved the TV book temporarily, switched gears, and wrote Aw! Relax Archie...Relaxx! I wrote it to primarily entertain and enlighten.”

This book is a fun read -- the kind of thing that you’ll enjoy taking to the beach or reading in a hammock or in bed late at night. He shares his early experiences as a child model and how that led at age eight to a role in the touring company production of Life With Father starring Lillian Gish who treated the child actor as her surrogate son and referred to him as her “Baby Harlan.”

He takes us on a delightful romp of Chicago and New York in the 1940’s as experienced by a young man who performed with some of the greatest actors of the era including Ross Martin, William Conrad, Art Carney, Ed Begley, Robert Montgomery, Ethel Merman and many others.

Hal is generous in giving credit where credit is due and provides lots of information on his fellow radio actors and where possible, details what became of their lives after the death of OTR.

He shares intimate anecdotal behind-the-scenes accounts of what it was like to work in radio. His career included many famous network shows including The Theatre Guild On The Air, Let’s Pretend, The Ethel Merman Show, The Henry Morgan Show, Dr. Christian, Big Town and Death Valley Days.

Hal provides insights into what rehearsals were like, descriptions of the various kinds of directors, his relationships with other child actors and how he balanced a career in radio with the responsibilities and desires of a “normal” teenager.

What was it like being a child actor? “In my early youth, I would sometimes resent it because it might occasionally interfere with my play time. But I certainly got lots of perks, met nice people, and had many interesting experiences. Later on in life, I realized how fortunate I was to have a career like that practically handed to me. I appreciated the fact the nine years of the Archie show carried me through the awkward teenage years, and all those experiences and contacts prepped me for my eventual success as an adult in the production end of TV.”

Ironically, after concluding a career in TV production, Hal finds himself once again in OTR -- this time at various regional OTR Conventions. “It's fun (not work) and I enjoy getting together with the other Old Timers (friends) from the business.”

“Besides, I now get to play adult roles, and I can demonstrate my acting range (no longer just the squeaky voiced Jughead). And I get pleasure knowing that our participation at these OTR conventions brings die-hard OTR fans a great deal of pleasure. Applause to an actor is a pretty heady thing. It's nice to hear it again.”

The book is chock full of delightful photos and publicity material that only someone who has been in the business would have. It even includes descriptions, photos and layouts of network studios and equipment.

Anyone who has an interest in radio’s Golden Age will find this book a must read. Written in an engaging style, it is like sitting across the table from an old friend who is comfortably sharing an account with a casual group of friends.

I’m glad that Hal has taken the time and effort to write the book and that I had the opportunity to read it. If you have in interest in the radio as it once was, you’ll enjoy it, too.

-- The End --
Title: Aw, Relax Archie...Re-Laxx
Publisher: Bygone Days Press
Size: 5.5 X 8.5
Content: 336 pages. 240 illustrations & photographs
Cost: $26.00 + $4.00 S&H (total $30.00)

May be purchased from:

Read Burgan is a free lance writer and a former public radio station manager who can be reached at (906) 296-0652 or through e-mail at rgb@chartermi.net